Foreign-Language Oscar Spotlight: Director Masaharu Take on Japan's Entry '100 Yen Love' (Q&A)

100 Yen Love - H 2015
Courtesy of Spotted Productions

The director talks about the coincidence of his leading lady being able to box, the joy of surprises and the difficulties in shooting a rape scene.

A surprisingly indie selection from Japan, which has a history of going with safer films, 100 Yen Love is the story of a thirtysomething female slacker who takes up boxing. The title comes from the 100 yen shop (dollar store) that Ichiko (Sakura Ando) starts work at.

The script by Shin Adachi won the inaugural Yusaku Matsuda Screenplay Award in 2012, giving the project momentum and helping director Masaharu Take get financing and a cast together.

Take sat down with THR in Tokyo.     

When did you first come across the script for 100 Yen Love?

I first read it about five years ago when Adachi-san had just finished it. He wrote the script for my debut film, which was a short, and we met occasionally after that to discuss scenarios he was working on. But we hadn't worked together since then.

Can you remember your first impression when you read it?

I was really happy. It was the first really interesting script I'd read for a long while. I thought straight away that this would make a good film. We met in a coffee shop and I read it in about two hours, while he waited. I don't have a computer so I usually meet people directly.   

Seriously, you don't have a computer?

No, I've never had one. From when they first came out I thought they don't suit me and I don't need one to live. I do read email on my phone though. I value meeting people.

What was it about the script that grabbed you?  

I was looking for a script with a really engaging main character and Ichiko was definitely that. More than an interesting story, I wanted the main character to draw you in and wonder what they were going to do; the kind that you want to root for whatever they do. As I was reading it, I found myself wondering what she would do next, though I never thought she was going to start boxing. I'd decided that I wanted a woman protagonist and Adachi-san had created three or four scripts with female leads; all of them down on their luck.

Were you looking for a dark type of story?  

Not so much dark, but stories about people who are successful and then hit hard times aren't so interesting. Stories about people whose lives don't go so well, like myself, and then something gets better for them, that's more engaging. I think there are elements of that in maybe 80 or 90 percent of films worldwide.

Other than raising the money, what was the biggest challenge you faced with this film?

The biggest challenge I thought would be finding an actress in Japan who could play Ichiko. There aren't that many actresses who can play this kind of tough. But then I saw Sakura Ando in a few films and decided I definitely wanted her to play the role.

I heard 700 people auditioned for the part. Is that true, even though you'd set your heart on Sakura Ando?

700 people applied, and we auditioned the ones we wanted to try out. Ando-san didn't apply at first but then her mother saw a newspaper article about it and recommended she try out; I think that was fate.

I understand Ando had done some boxing, correct?

Yes, I didn't know that at first, but heard from her agency that she trained at a boxing gym when she was in junior high school. I didn't know how much she'd actually done, but still having some experience with boxing and none is very different. It was an incredible coincidence: there aren't many women who've boxed.  

Did you struggle with how to shoot the scene where Ichiko is raped?

It's the hardest thing Ichiko faces and it was the most difficult scene to present. It went from a part of the film that was funny to that, though I think both Ando and the actor who played her co-worker made it work well. The part afterward when she's keeps saying it hurts was ad-libbed and when we edited it, I thought we'd got it right, though not everyone will accept it.

How did you feel about getting selected as Japan's entry to the Oscars?

I was seriously surprised when the Japan Academy got in touch, like a lot of people, I think. I wondered why it wasn't Koreeda and Our Little Sister or Kiyoshi Kurosawa's film [Journey to the Shore,] which had won an award at Cannes I was genuinely surprised for the first time in ages — it's good to have a real shock every now and then. And a lot more people will get to see them film now, which is good for everyone involved.

Twitter: @GavinJBlair